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A desire to give back launches a popular Seattle science, art and tech program for underserved kids

Photo courtesy of SPIN


Growing up a Filipino-American in Hawaii with limited educational opportunities, Jon Madamba knows the path to success can be hard for some kids to find. So two years ago, Madamba, who works in software, decided to help show local kids the way by offering to teach a technology course to 50 underprivileged kids at the Filipino Community Center of Seattle.    

The class was a hit and Madamba was inspired to expand the effort by creating a nonprofit startup called STEM Paths Innovation Network, or SPIN.    

SPIN’s goal is to create a more equitable playing field in the digital realm by providing access to technology resources to underserved low-income and minority kids, Madamba said by email; they want to “create innovators that become change agents in the landscape of their economic futures.” 

Photo courtesy of SPIN

SPIN hopes to expose kids to STEAM fields, encouraging them to pursue work in the fields.

The organization offers instruction in STEAM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. SPIN has grown beyond that first community center to offer classes in other communities, schools, recreation departments and public libraries throughout Seattle. Between long-term courses, drop-in classes and community events, SPIN has served more than 2,000 kids since it was founded.

By providing underprivileged youths with exposure to STEAM, these kids have the option of ultimately pursuing careers that otherwise may not have been possible for them. 

“If they’re interested in science or engineering, they’ll have the confidence and background to enter it with self-assurance,” said SPIN site coordinator Pete Intravartolo. “Providing opportunities and giving empowerment to these kids may lead to a career that many would not have considered otherwise.”

Photo courtesy of SPIN

Creativity and collaboration flow in SPIN classes.

Instructors get kids excited about technology by building classes around games and activities they already like. The popular video game Minecraft, for example, is being used as a teaching tool. Site coordinator and instructor Haya Munoz describes the game as “a virtual sandbox” where students can build interactive 3-D structures and landscapes to form a community. The class works together to choose what type of community they want to create, including features such as a farm, city and neighborhood. Then they divide into teams to build each feature. At the end of the course, parents are invited to watch their kids present the creations. 

Other popular projects include bringing in unused items from home and creating new objects from them. In one of these classes, students crafted wallets and purses from duct tape. In the popular Recyclable Fashion class, students transform old, unwanted clothes into stylish new designs. 

Some SPIN students’ involvement with the program doesn’t end when their courses are over. SPIN trains older students to become mentors, and many of the high school participants are now teaching classes themselves.


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